What are exosomes and why are they in my skincare? | Ask Doctor Anne

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What are exosomes and what are they doing in my skincare? That is what we are going to discuss today, alongside the question if they are worth spending as much money as they currently cost.

 

What are exosomes and are they worth your money?
What are exosomes and are they worth your money?

 

First of all though, exosomes are a great example for the speed science is developing. Back in my days at uni I already learned about them, but they were considered the cells waste disposal system. If you look at the surge of publications on them since 2019 now, you already have a clue that this is no longer the case.

So without further anecdotes from a time long gone, let’s get into the topic: Why the sudden interest in exosomes?

 

 

What are exosomes?

Exosomes develop when a cell in the human body secretes substances packaged into small vesicles, basically tiny bubbles, that act as messengers and transport the substances packaged inside via the blood stream all over the body. That excretion process is why they were initially thought to be waste disposal – the cell gets its garbage, packs it into a bag and dumps it out. It took a while until people realized that inside the exosomes wasn’t actually waste, but quite precious cargo including proteins, regulatory molecules and even messenger RNA that played an important role in cell communication and tissue repair. (More info: Everything you need to know about peptides in skincare)

Instead of waste disposal, it is a care package that gets sent to different places – where they dock on is determined by where they came from and regulated via structures on their surface – and said package contains both the information of what the recipient is supposed to do as well as the tools it needs to do it.

 

Exosomes – picture source: https://immunostep.com/exosomes/

 

Where exosomes come from

Almost every cell in the human body produces exosomes, as do numerous other species including plants.

As I mentioned already, where exosomes dock on and deliver their message depends on their surface structure and where they were made, meaning that an exosome from, let’s say, a rose bush, won’t necessarily be able to communicate with the cells of a human being. A rose bush has quite different needs than me, I suppose.

So the exosomes used in medicine and subsequently the ones used in skincare come from a human host, usually either produced from mesenchymal stem cells, adipose tissue or the bone marrow because of how they behave when used. As almost all cells do produce exosomes, you could in theory get them from any cell though, including cancerous cells.

 

thousands of red roses
Tons of exosomes could be found here – but none my body would recognize
Image by Dr Carl Russell from Pixabay

 

Why exosomes could be beneficial

Exosomes transport information and material from one cell to the other, and quite often that is the order and the means to start building something.

Stem cells for example tell other cells to start repairing tissue, which is why their exosomes are really interesting in medicine in the treatment of skin ulcers and other chronic wounds in patients where wound healing doesn’t happen as effortlessly as it did before. But again, different cells produce exosomes with different purposes, so saying exosomes help in wound healing is way too broad.

Specific exosomes seem to have beneficial effects on wound healing, modulating inflammation, pigment production and even on hair growth, making them interesting for cosmetics as well as for medicine. (More info: The main reasons for hair loss in men and women)

 

Development of publications on the topic of exosomes on PubMed
Development of publications on the topic of exosomes on PubMed

 

Is there data on exosomes?

As I showed you before, there is a lot of data on exosomes. But quantity doesn’t mean quality. Many of the papers published over the course of the last years are papers hypothecizing on the role exosomes could potentially play. Don’t get me wrong, those papers are important, but they don’t answer the question if they, outside of theoretical possibilities, actually do something. Among the other studies published, you will find some looking at the effects of certain types of exosomes on either animals or on human skin cells in the lab. They show promising results, but still aren’t able to answer the question if you should go get exosomes in your routine asap.

The main problem we still face here is that regulation is lacking, meaning that it isn’t specified what exactly an exosome is – they come from different sources, are harvested by different means of purification and isolation, meaning it is near to impossible to compare the little data we have. Not to mention that when they are used in a clinical setting, to improve wound healing for example, they are used on sick people – you can’t just transfer those results to healthy individuals, as they might work completely different in them. Just imagine Insulin – life saving for someone with diabetes, potentially deadly for me when used in the same concentration.

Long story short: Yes, there is data that warrants looking into it, but before we can come to a conclusion, we need more data and above all more definition on what we are talking about.

 

Snail mucin is refined before it is put into your skincare.
How are the exosomes extracted?
Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

 

Are exosomes safe?

Yes and no.

Yes as in the exosomes used in studies didn’t show any adverse effects, and especially the ones coming from mesenchymal stem cells were exceptionally well tolerated with a very low risk of allergic reactions for example.

But also no as in you don’t always know what you get. Exosomes that aren’t purified the right way and maybe don’t come from a healthy host could potentially tell your cells to do stuff you don’t really want them to do.

 

Redness is very common as side effect.
Exosomes may help speed up recovery after certain treatments
Image by Youssef Labib from Pixabay

 

How are exosomes used?

Their safety also depends on the way they are used: Right now they are only allowed to be used topically, you don’t get to inject them. If you would, you might get other, potentially unwanted effects. But they are also too big to penetrate the skin, meaning just putting them on in a serum isn’t likely to do anything other than lighten your wallet.

As of now, with the data we have, using them as part of the healing process after a cosmetic procedure done in office, think micro needling, laser and similar, seems to be the best way to use them. If you trust your provider to get them from a credible source and store them properly, as the aren’t the most stable once harvested. If you don’t trust your provider on that, you should probably not be doing a procedure with him anyway.

In terms of products you can buy for at home use – I will link some below – I personally wouldn’t spend my money on them just yet and wait what the future brings.

 

TL;DR

Suddenly exosomes are everywhere, touted as next big thing in skincare. And they are promising indeed, being the messengers between cells, used to transport proteins, modulators and even mRNA to other cells to influence wound ealing, inflammation or pigment production. Before you rush out to buy them though, you need to know that while there is a lot of data, it isn’t good data yet. So far it isn’t even defined what criteria must be met in terms of host they are harvested from – they usually come from human cells – , purification and other specifics. As of now I wouldn’t spend my money on the rather expensive skincare you can get them in and maybe use them as part of a cosmetic procedure at the doctors office if I really wanted to give them a go.

 

Are exosomes in skincare worth your money?
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